Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cover of the Year?

Sadly, this was due to be published to coincide with the start of the Republican primaries in January, but has been postponed. (Or canceled, I can't tell.) The title comes from a mocking comment Perry made about a reporter at the end of a lousy interview in 2005.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Is this what they mean by "Papa Hemingway?"

Another hot Friday night at my house....  I was in the middle of searching for accoutrements for my Ernest Hemingway Halloween costume (my wife nixed my Gertrude Stein costume idea) when this place turned up in a Google search:

What the fuck?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but - mainly - to ourselves.
-from Julian Barnes' The Sense of An Ending

Me, Joe Porteous, author Eric Puchner, & Scott Ehrig-Burgess
I find it strangely poignant that Julian Barnes' latest novel, The Sense of an Ending has been the book I've been reading this past week. (Booker Prize shortlister.) It doesn't completely resonate with my own personal life, of course, but it is about a man taking stock on his own life - which I have been doing quite a bit lately (to the detriment of my writing & this blog, I have to say.) Shit, just look at the title - all good things must come to an end, as they say.

No, no, not the Book Catapult - after 8 years, I am leaving my position as bookseller, book buyer, website coordinator, social media wrangler, merchandiser, book shelver, coffee talker, and heavy lifter at Warwick's bookstore in La Jolla - San Diego's greatest independent bookstore.

Over the years - especially here online - I have come to identify myself, primarily, as an independent bookseller & this is due, in large part, to my experiences at Warwick's. (Not to mention, my 2+ years spent a decade ago at the best bookstore east of the Mississippi, Octavia Books in New Orleans.) So, of course, I could never just turn my back on that independent spirit completely - in my new life, I will be the Trade Book Buyer at the University of California, San Diego bookstore. With a little time, effort, & elbow grease, hopefully I'll help turn the University's store into a spectacular independent in its own right.

I would never have been offered my new position had I not been afforded the opportunities I received at Warwick's, so I would like to publicly thank all the people there (past & present) who taught me along the way - whether how to be a buyer, a bookseller, a website guy, or a generally good person:

Nancy Warwick, Scott & Kristi Ehrig-Burgess, Janet Lutz, Barbara Melkerson, Adriana Hill Diamond, Joe Porteous, Tracy Rutherford, Kat Kinzer, Jason Perkins, Steven Lesinski, Molly McDonald, Margie Trailer, Pam Fox, Jim Stewart, Phoebe Markley, Julie Slavinsky, Ted Burke, John Hughes, Jan Iverson, and Adrian Newell. Not to mention the thousands of customers I've conversed with over the years - especially Will Wainess, Ted Chandler, Norm Eisenberg, Noel Phelan, Ed Cozza, Bob Draper, & Sean down at Adelaide's. You guys all gave me a reason to come in & talk about books every day - maybe the world's greatest job - so thank you.

And of course, Jenny.

Thanks, everybody. I'll see y'all down the line.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Barry Eisler, Amazon Deep-Cover Operative

"I made this announcement that I'm gonna self-publish the book, I'm not going to take the big - seemingly big - legacy advance, I can do better on my own... Amazon...approached me with what is essentially a hybrid deal, the best of both worlds."
This morning, Barry Eisler, mid-list thriller writer of such books as Rain Fall, Killing Rain, Rain Storm, and Hard Rain, had an interview on NPR's Morning Edition: Go listen to the story, then come back here. Go on, it's only 4 minutes.

In case you didn't go off & listen to the story, even though I just told you to, here's the deal: back in March, fed up with the general inefficiency of his publishing company, St. Martin's Press, Eisler walked away from a lucrative 2-book deal, claiming that he would be better off self-publishing his books and offering them directly to his readers. Although booksellers could feel the knot in the pits of our collective stomachs growing, I could understand his move & thought it was a harbinger of a new wave of author/publisher relationships. Even if Eisler was mainly talking about providing eBooks, rather than paperbacks, directly to the consumer - much like J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site - I understood the frustration with the traditional model of publishing. Publishers have generally been extremely slow to evolve along with the current electronic trends in the industry, helping force the downfall of brick & mortar stores, from Borders to local indies. We're all in this together - it was only a matter of time until authors began to try to write directly for their readers, cutting out all us middlemen.

Aha, but NOW, things are different in the Eisler "self-publishing" company. Soon after his announcement, Eisler was approached by & the two brokered a deal, wherein Eisler would retain creative control & Amazon would handle the distribution of his eBooks. 
(I have) the entire Amazon marketing juggernaut behind the book, which is something you, as a self-published author, can't do on your own - it's good to have a powerful, competent distribution partner...
Sort a publisher like...Macmillan distributing your books...? Wait a minute....

Not only is Amazon distributing the eBook, they are also publishing a paperback version through their new Thomas & Mercer imprint. So... he backed out of his deal with one publisher - who would have presumably distributed his book in all formats - in favor of another. It sounds to me like Eisler had a shitty deal with St. Martin's, wherein he didn't have the kind of creative control he wanted, he made threats to self-publish, which could have potentially caused an avalanche of authors following suit, upsetting the publishing apple cart, only to broker a better deal with a new player in the game in Amazon. Sorry, Barry, but no matter how you slice it, this would be the very definition of hypocrisy.

To boot, writing a book & signing a lucrative, multi-format distribution deal through the world's largest distributor is not "self-publishing," sir. I understand that normally, a self-published author would not have the marketing machine of Amazon in their camp, but this would move what you're doing firmly outside the parameters of doing anything your "self." Maybe I misheard him, I don't know. He seems to talk extensively about self-publishing in his NPR interview, but drops this little series of gems at the end:
Look, I told you what my objectives make more money from the title, to get the digital out first, and to retain more control over business decisions. Those are my objectives and self-publishing seemed like a good way of achieving those objectives, but if a better way comes along - and the Amazon model is a better way for me - of course I'm going to take it. Publishing, for me, is a business, not an ideology.
All this in response to those of us who claimed he was being hypocritical in signing his deal with Amazon. Uh, not good enough, Barry - it still seems pretty goddamn hypocritical to me. You can't claim that you're just trying to provide a better service to your readership by self-publishing and turn around and sign a better deal with a different company who is pretending that they're not a publisher in the traditional sense. I call bullshit.

Oh, and my favorite part of all of this - and perhaps the most perplexing - is the listing for The Detachment on Amazon. Remember, Amazon is the sole distributor for this book, yet the price structure listed is "$9.99 digital list price" - which is dramatically crossed out & offered by the generous folks at Amazon for a mere $5.99. (Ditto for the paperback version. WTF?) 

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Tomas the Tranströmer

Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer has been awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature, "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality." Check out the 20 second video announcement at If that's not the picture of standoffish, snooty, elitist award-announcing, I don't know what is.

I would never want to take anything away from a 80-year-old, half-paralyzed stroke victim who has made a living writing poetry, but... a Swedish poet? Hometown referee, I say. How 'bout leaving Europe for a change, you Nobel dickwads? 7 of the last 10 winners have been Euros. The last American was Toni Morrison in 1993 - you're telling me that there has been not one single American writer, poet, or playwright in the last 18 years worthy of the Nobel? What about Africa? (Not South Africa, Africa Africa.) Or Japan?

Before Morrison, we Americans had Joseph Brodsky in 1987, Isaac Bashevic Singer in 1978, Saul Bellow '77, Steinbeck '62, Hemingway '54, Faulkner in '49, and Pearl S. Buck in 1938. Really? That's all the broad-reaching, globally-embracing work we've produced since 1901?

Again, I don't really want to take anything away from Tomas - I'm sure he's a very fine poet - but I'd hate for authors like Haruki Murakami, Cormac, Nurrudin Farah, or even old white dudes, DeLillo and Roth, to get Mark Twain-ed out of a Nobel Prize. Most of what I read, if the authors are American, is coming from writers of my generation - ie: under 50 years old. Will we be having this conversation in 40 years about Ron Currie, Téa Obreht, David Mitchell, Wells Tower, Aravind Adiga, or Jeffrey Eugenides? Who the hell knows? I guess for now I'll just shelve the ranting until next year and give Tomas his day. Congratulations, Tranströmer - I can't wait for your books to not be available to sell in English for the next 6 months. By then, maybe no one will care anymore.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Nobel '11

O Cărtărescu!
For some reason, I love to discuss the fact that people - British people, really, if we're honest - like to bet money on literary prizes. It's Book Award Betting Season again, everybody!

Thursday morning, kids all over the planet will wake up to a world with a new reigning Nobel Prize winner in Literature. They'll rush downstairs, turn on their local NPR station, & hope to hear their favorite name announced. Little Jimmy's been praying all season for Syrian poet, Adonis, but he wouldn't be broken up if Tomas Transtromer took home the gold. Gary thinks it's gonna be Philip Roth, but he's wrong - at least according to Suzie, who has inside knowledge that Nuruddin Farah is a sure thing.

Ah, what do they know - here are the odds as of Monday, according to Ladbroke's famed betting house, London: 
Adonis - 4/1
Tomas Transtromer - 6/1
Haruki Murakami - 8/1
Peter Nadas - 10/1
Assia Djebar - 12/1
Ko Un - 14/1
Les Murray - 16/1
Thomas Pynchon - 18/1
Philip Roth - 20/1
Nuruddin Farah - 20/1
Just like every year, most of the names on the list are a mystery to me, even after Googling & Wikipedia-ing. This is just the top 10, filled with many familiars, although Tomas & Assia are still enigmas - there are 77 total names listed with odds on Ladbroke's. (Les Murray is an Australian poet, by the way.) Last year, 25/1 darkhorse Mario Vargas Llosa took the Prize even though Cormac McCarthy was the heavy 5/2 favorite heading into the final week. This year, my money's on Romanian poet Mircea Cărtărescu - I mean, why not? Who the hell knows anyway?

Not to be outdone, the Booker Prize is in the one-month Shortlist waiting period - the winner is announced October 13th. Here're the current odds on that action:
Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending: 13/8
Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie: 7/2
A.D. Miller - Snowdrops: 7/2
Stephen Kelman - Pigeon English: 9/2
Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues: 13/2
Patrick deWitt - The Sisters Brothers: 8/1
I have no idea how to interpret odds like "13/8" but it would seem that Julian is a pretty heavy favorite. I'm still pulling for Carol Birch.

Any thoughts? Maybe a little side bet?